National Child Abuse Prevention Month recognizes the importance of communities working together to help families thrive and prevent child maltreatment.

There are formal and informal ways that child abuse and/or maltreatment can be prevented. During this unprecedented time of living through a pandemic, COVID-19 has had us re-think how we function individually and collectively for the health and safety of all of us. Taking a moment to reflect about child abuse prevention is much the same, we need to re-think it.

It is a BIG and heavy topic and may leave us many times wondering how “I” will make a difference.

What can I do?

We make a difference when we are in the store and there is a baby that is crying and a caregiver who is desperately trying to calm their child, who it seems you can hear from miles away, and you share a smile that gives a sense of being in those shoes in the past or a kind word and perhaps acknowledgement of how patient they are.

We can make a difference when we are at a store and we listen to the cashier who is talking about long hours and challenging precautions they need to manage throughout their day.

We can make a difference when we pass a co-worker in the hall, at the mailboxes or at the copy machine and when we say, “Hello, how are you?” we take a moment and listen and spend time together not just hurrying past each other.

We can make a difference when we see a child and we look at them; we talk to them to see how they are doing especially since COVID and their schooling and lives has been changed around. We listen and try to understand the changes that have occurred and the challenges they are facing.

We can make a difference when we send a text to a co-worker, a friend, neighbor or family member and just tell them, “Hello, I am thinking about you today.”

We can make a difference when we see our neighbor and we say hello and we really listen when we ask how they are and if they need anything. We can offer to pick something up at the store and would be more than willing to assist them.

We can make a difference when we support our teachers who are with our youth and who have the chance to build relationships with them during the school year. When we encourage them to see the best in the students and to find ways to overcome the challenges. This is especially important while we are all enduring and being impacted by the pandemic.

We can make a difference when we listen to a grandparent who talks about seeing their grandchildren and perhaps how their health is challenged, and the grandchild have so much energy and spunk and how do they keep up. Or the grandparent who is unable to see their grandchildren and their sadness in this situation. We listen to their story.

During this time of COVID, we may not see our smiles on our faces, but see our faces with masks on and our “eyes smiling.” We may need to have conversations at a physically safe distance; however, we need to have them. We as professionals and mandated reporters are equally challenged by the changes of our world.

We can share in the solutions; we can share in the ability to get through these times together.

We need to realize that in each interaction, every smile, every hello and asking, “How are you?” and really taking the time to listen makes a difference. Each of those people you took a moment for are a child, a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a neighbor and your moment of kindness will have a positive impact on them and their day and in turn truly fosters good for all.

We have the ability to provide that moment of truly listening and being kind, which makes the difference of between a moment of hope instead of hopelessness, a moment of realizing that I am not alone and part of something and a moment that helps us to keep moving ahead and not feel idle or stuck. All these moments can create an atmosphere of positive relationships and communities and builds a culture that prevents child abuse and puts a priority on caring about each other.

It makes a difference. YOU make a difference.

(Julie A. Tomasi is chief operations officer of child welfare programs at New Directions Youth and Family Services in Randolph.)

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